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Suspending an Order for Committal

The recent case of Jerome Christie v Birmingham City Council heard on the 14th December 2016 has clarified the length of time for which a Committal Order can be suspended.
In this case the Local Authority had been successful in injunction proceedings against a number of people including the Appellant who were members of two Birmingham street gangs involved in an armed feud with each other.
Following breaches of the Injunction Mr Christie was arrested and brought before the Court. Following a second breach of the Injunction the Judge committed Mrs Christie to prison for 28 days for the first breach of the Injunction and 56 days for the second breach of the Injunction, such terms to run concurrently.
He suspended the Committal Order until the expiry of the “the current Injunction or any further Order” and confirmed that the Committal would not be put in force if during that time Mr Christie complied with the terms of the Injunction.
An appeal was lodged arguing that the Contempt of Court Act 1981 prevented the Judge prevented the Judge from suspending the term of imprisonment on that basis and that any suspension must be for (a) no longer than two years or, if that were wrong (b) a fixed period of time.
The Court of Appeal considered Section 14(1) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which provides that “in any case where a Court has power to commit a person to prison for contempt of Court and….no limitation applies to the period of committal, the committal shall ….be for a fixed term, and that terms shall not on any occasion exceed two years….”
In considering the appeal the Court of Appeal held that Section 14 (1) of the 1981 Act referred to the period of time for which the committal could be ordered and did not apply to the period for which it could be suspended.
In this case the period of the committal was quite clear – 28 days and 56 days – and therefore there was therefore no breach of the terms of the 1981 Act. The Court was therefore satisfied that the Judge had the power to make the Order he did. The Court of Appeal agreed that where a Committal Order is suspended for breach of an interim Injunction that it must be made explicit when that suspension will come to an end.
In this case the Court of Appeal considered that since the Appellant would know when the Injunction had come to an end there was sufficient clarity for him.